Pediatric Pathology Icon Passes Away

Pediatric pathology pioneer Marie Valdés-Dapena, M.D., professor emerita of pathology and pediatrics, passed away September 30. She was 91.

One of the nation’s first pediatric pathologists, Valdés-Dapena was a leader in the study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and among the first to recognize the signs of child abuse. Her research in the 1960s and ‘70s ruled out various theories for SIDS, from viruses to milk allergies, and led to the 1990s recommendations that babies be placed on their backs to sleep, after which SIDS deaths plummeted from about 20,000 a year to less than 5,000. She also published seven books and more than a hundred scientific articles and book chapters on the subject.

A working mother of 11 children in an era when few women worked and even fewer were doctors, Valdés-Dapena graduated from Temple University School of Medicine in 1944. She joined the UM faculty in 1976, teaching and practicing at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital for 20 years and as professor emerita for 16. She was a member of the Iron Arrow Society, the highest honor awarded at the University of Miami.

One of her former students, Rebeca Porto, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pathology and medical director of Laboratory Services at Jackson South Community Hospital, fondly recalled her sophomore-year teacher and attending physician. “She was an extraordinary teacher and human being,” said Porto. “I became a pathologist because of her.”

Maria M. Rodriguez, M.D., professor of clinical pathology and pediatrics, remembers Valdés-Dapena as a beloved mentor. “Dr. Valdés-Dapena was an excellent human being who was always willing to help everyone without expecting anything back,” Rodriguez said.

Valdés-Dapena gained national attention as a pathology expert in the biggest maternal infanticide case ever recorded – that of Marie Noe, who was convicted in 1999 of murdering eight of her children in Kensington, Philadelphia.

She is survived by her children, Victoria, Cris, Peter, Debi, Andres, Carlos, Mark, Antonio, Dan, Patty Fater and Cate; 21 grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 20, at 10 a.m. at Nativity B.V.M. Parish, 30 East Franklin Street, Media, Pennsylvania. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations, marked “In Memory of Marie Valdés-Dapena, M.D. ’44,” be mailed to Temple University School of Medicine, 3500 N. Broad Street, 11th Floor, Philadelphia, PA, 19140.

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